More than just a Ham radio blog.
is an informative, cynical and sometimes humorous look at what is happening in the world of amateur radio.

Monday, 31 May 2010

A Radioactive Weekend in Cumbria

When we were planning this trip it had seemed like it would an idyllic weekend away in the Lake District. The kids were off for a week and Helen had the bank holiday Monday off, so I booked the Monday off too, my fellow workers jumped at the chance of a twelve hour shift on treble time. We had booked a cottage just outside of Ravenglass, it looked pretty good in the photographs on the Internet, maybe not the sort of place you would want to spend a week but okay for a weekend. We were planning an assault on Muncaster Fell G/LD-055 for Summits on the Air, a visit to Muncaster Castle and maybe a visit to the beach.

I spent Friday morning loading all the usual gear in to the Discovery. One by one the bags of clothes, radio gear, cameras, laptops, rucksacks, walking books and poles went in and when it was finished I looked at it and thought "Not bad we have only half as much stuff as usual". That lasted until everyone arrived home from work or school and one by one more things were added until we could only just see out of the rear window.

We had a reasonable trip up to the cottage. It is only about 90 miles as the crow flies from here but about 155 miles by road. Theoretically it should take a little under three hours, which was what it took us coming home, but the bank holiday traffic and road works mixed with the usual rush hour turned that in to a four hour journey. At least we were not in the gridlock trying to get in to North Wales, which must have been fifty miles long at least.

When we arrived we were disheartened to see we were in a house without a view, we were surrounded by trees. We come to look at lakes and mountains and what could we see? The cottage was an end terrace of four which used to be the servants quarters for a big house, Holmbrook Hall which burned down in the 1950s, which was ironic seeing how it was named HMS Volcano when used by the Admiralty to train bomb disposal officers. The only remaining feature of it once opulence was an arched gateway.

We arrived at about 8pm and quickly unpacked the contents Discovery before taking a quick trip in to Whitehaven were we knew there was a 24 hour Tesco supermarket. As we headed out of the tree-line on the A595 we spotted the outline of the Sellafield nuclear power station, which in an beautiful area like Cumbria is like a lump of dog dirt on a wedding cake. My sister was involved with a lot of building at Sellafield in her previous life as a quantity surveyor, how can she sleep at night? We once visited the Sellafield visitors centre, if you ever get the chance then don't go there.

Apologies to anyone who lives there (that is you Derek 2E0MIX) but if you ever get the chance to visit Whitehaven then don't go there either. It appeared to be the dirtist town I have ever visited. It was full of drunken Geordies and Glaswegians (probably contractors working at Sellafield) and what looked and sounded like Polish prostitutes most of whom wore very little and some of whom I am certain were men in drag. Tesco in Whitehaven was the worst supermarket I have ever had the misfortune to visit too. The floors were dirty and rubbish strewn, every time we picked up anything we had to check the date as lots of the stock was either out of date or short dated, the biggest problem was the fresh meat, most of which was festering, some with blue mould growing on it even though in some cases it was well in date. I have visited Tesco stores all over the UK and have never seen anything like this place.

The cottage might have been okay if it had not been for electric storage heaters that meant it was like a refrigerator in the evenings and an oven first thing in the morning. The kids were also disappointed to find that the big flat screen digital TV did not have all the usual Freeview channels, just those from the big four BBC, ITV, and Channels Four and Five. Freeview everywhere else seems to have upwards of sixty channels although many of them are pointless shopping or dating garbage. To keep everyone happy we usually watch some of the comedy shows on Dave when we are away, but no Dave this weekend so the rubbish on TV drove me in to the kitchen were I was amazed to find that my purchase from China of a magnetically mounted collinear antenna meant I had a full scale signal on my 3 broadband dongle. For the first time ever my mobile broadband came in to its own.

Saturday morning I was awake at the crack of dawn as sunlight shone straight in through the paper thin white curtains and the storage heaters brought my blood up to near boiling point. I went down stairs and had a drink before doing a bit of web surfing. At about 9 am there was a hammering on the door, it was the owner who had just popped round to check we were all right. I resisted the urge to tell her to take a running jump in the nearest lake, smiled and nodded and said everything was fine. It was a good job I was already awake. What I wanted to say was "I am on holiday and that means I do not want to be woken by anyone before lunch time, now sod off".

When the rest of the crew finally emerged the early sun had hidden itself behind a vale of dark threatening grey clouds. It had rained over night but it was holding off. I expected Helen to suggest we did something else but she seemed to think it might be even worse tomorrow so we headed for Muncaster Fell. As we arrived at our starting point from the Muncaster Castle car park we heard Derek 2E0MIX/p on Dent G/LD-045. Derek needed one more contact to qualify and I was able to give him that while Helen and Caroline added a couple more to his log. Derek was glad to be getting off his summit and suggested we might have a rough time on top on our fell.

The walk up Muncaster is pleasant enough and even with the slightly dodgy weather it was not a chore. On a good day it would be nice enough to spend a good deal of time on the top as the views of Lakeland's more substantial peaks is terrific. Today was not a good day. As we reached the summit the wind was howling and the rain could be seen as a greyer mist than the rest on the distant hills and out over the sea. Helen commented that we might not be able to get the masts up but we dropped down a few feet from the trig point to the East in the lee of the hill and it was relatively comfortable there for a while. For some reason I felt very hungry and I changed my usual tactic of radio first and had lunch before setting up.

The summit was not conducive to putting up the 80m version of the linked dipole so as I had both I erected the smaller one, that gave me 60m/40m and 20m. Conditions on 60m seemed poor but not a poor as the log seemed to show. After 10 minutes calling I was answered be Dave G3RDQ in Stockbridge Hampshire. Dave was 57 with me and I was 55. Four minutes later I got Brian G4ZRP on the Wirral who was 51 with me and gave me a 33 report back. Finally I got Don G0RQL down in Devon who said it was nice to hear a decent signal on the band and we exchanged 59/58 reports. It seemed a little surprising that there was no-one else on 5 MHz who could hear me, but the skip was long.

Helen had been having problems. Her mast came down which chopped the 2m J-Pole in half. A swift temporary repair finished off with a sticking plaster (who removed the insulation tape from my rucksack?) and she got herself up and running, but nobody was answering her CQ either. Eventually a signal boomed in that was 59 plus end stopping, it was Graham GW0HUS who lives on Halkyn Mountain in North Wales after Helen and Caroline had Graham in the log I too grabbed him for my qualifying contact. The girls went on to work Graham's wife Shirley and I went back to try my luck on 40m.

Forty metres was going as bad as sixty had. After 15 minute Don G0RQL called me again to let me know I had been spotted. Don was a fairly good signal on this band but not as good as on sixty and I was considerably down on what I was. Don's spot eventually paid off and I was called by Ambrosi HB9AGH followed closely by a superb summit to summit with Lutz DL3SBA on DM/NW-204 Nordhelle. As I worked Lutz the rain started to get heavier and I said I was about to pack up, this brought HB9BIN, 9A7W and DJ5AV out and I quickly worked them before making a mad dash to put everything away out of the rain. Helen and Caroline had found two more stations on 2 FM and so had qualified the summit. Typically as soon as we had everything stowed away the rain stopped and the mobile started to bleep away as spot after spot came in for what might have been potential S2S contacts.

Dropping down off the summit and away from the wind the walk back to the car was as pleasant as you could have wanted. A big steak washed down with a pint of Theakston's Old Peculiar followed. Back at the cottage batteries went on charge and we called it an night. The only real disappointment was not being able to work Derek 2E0MIX from the summit to return the chaser point we had given him. We had spoken to Derek a couple of time recently on the local 70cms repeater GB3CR. When conditions are up he has a pretty good signal from his home in Whitehaven in to North Wales.

On Sunday the sun was back and we were woken early by renovations next door that seems to start by drilling through our bedroom wall at three am. We visited Muncaster Castle, which we were keen to see, but which unfortunately is not part of the National Trust so we had to pay to get in. Fortunately it is better value than most stately homes and is worth a visit for the owl sanctuary and gardens. The house itself has some nice things on display but we were not that impressed. The history of the house tells me they were on the wrong side in the English civil wars wars (you need to know a bit about my own family history to understand why), but I can almost forgive them for their connections with England's greatest hero Admiral Lord Viscount Horatio Nelson. Probably the best portrait of Nelson I have seen hangs in the dinning room at Muncaster.

One problem with our visit to Muncaster Castle was their Festival of Fools. Having grown up with a father obsessed with circuses and his magic shows I have an abiding aversion to clowns and the place was full of them. Much as I pleaded my family would not let me kill the clowns and as I took my photographs I took great care to avoid getting any of the stupid buggers in the frame. "No I don't want my portrait painted! ", No I don't want my face painted!", "I will stuff that balloon dog were the sun doesn't shine if you are not careful!", "No I have not seen your wings. You big fairy!" and so it went on. I am sure most people would have found it entertaining but I grew tired of clowns by the time I was about eight when I realised most peoples parents did not dress up in big shoes and baggy pants or wear scary make up. Despite the clowns the day was good and the weather fantastic. The food was excellent too, I had a burger that was all Angus beef (I usually avoid burgers) and thick chips (Fries for the Americans) like mother used to make and even the salad looked good (I don't eat salad).

Once back at the cottage we rounded off the weekend of healthy eating with a massive fry up of whatever we found in the local store attached to a service station. I have never eaten roast potatoes with gammon, bacon, sausage and eggs before but when you are hungry anything goes. We had hopes of catching a sunset over the sea and after eating we set off for the beach. As the great fiery ball dipped lower it looked like we were going to get our pictures but suddenly the sun dropped behind a low layer of mist and was gone. We headed back. We settled down with a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale and watched 'Great British Geniuses' on TV before heading for bed.

This morning we were up ten minutes before the alarm thanks to the cockerel in the field opposite and after a bowl of cereal and a coffee we loaded up for the journey home. It had been our intention to activate Longridge Fell G/SP-014 for SOTA on the way home but we had forgotten to gather the information on where to park and set up the GPS with the route so we had to give it a miss this time. The run home was as near perfect as could be and we were home for 1pm having stopped off and done a weeks shopping at the local supermarket as well. For those leaving Wales that day the prospect was horrendous and we waved at the standing queues of traffic calling out "Thanks for visiting Wales, now go home!"

Planning is now in progress for our SOTA invasion of Scotland in August. One week is already booked near Inverness with lots of potential summits available to activate. We need to decide where we are going the other week, back to the lakes? , North East or South Scotland?, So many choices!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Portugal on 5mhz

I had one of my easiest ever 5 MHz contacts with a new country last night (Wed 26/5/2010). I had seen on the Yahoo 60 metre group that Jose CT1EEB had his licence for the band and had worked all the UK prefixes with the exception of GJ and GW. We exchanged a couple of emails in which I said I would be delighted to set up a scheduled call. At 22:45 (local) last night I sent an email to Jose saying I was listening on 5.4035 and would start to call him at 23:00. At 23:00 on the dot he called me and we had a 59 each way short QSO before he had to go for dinner. I was pretty amazed it was so easy. I have not been that excited by a contact since I picked up Ascension Island on 5 MHz. I had a quick QSO after that with Keith G8HXE who was not hearing Jose. That made it all the more special knowing that it might not have been so easy if I had been in a different location for the propagation. It maybe also says something for the antenna I am using which is a resonant dipole at 30 feet over a reflector. The reflector is 10% bigger than the dipole and is intended to enhance near vertical incidence skywave for inter UK working. There is not much science involved in my set up, but it is based on experience. I found that during portable operations on 60m when I mounted my dipole above a wire fence I got better signals than when I mounted it free standing. A number of other amateurs use a buried radial or radials for the same reason.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Martin Lynch appointed UK & EI Wouxun Dealer

Martin Lynch and sons Limited have been appointed UK & Ireland Distributor for the Wouxun Electronics range of Communication Handhelds.

They will stock the entire range of Wouxun products soon but at the moment have the KG-679E and KG-699E 2 metre rigs, KG-699E 4 metre and the KG-UVD1P 2m/70cm Dual band rigs in stock. Most surprising is the prices which are not far removed from the buy direct on eBay route with none of the hassle of being hit for VAT and import duty and the advantage of a UK return address should you find a fault during the guarantee period.

Advertised prices are - £58.99 for the KG-679E 2m, £64.99 for the KG699E 2m and £89.99 for both the KG-699E 4m and KG-UVD1P 2m/70cm Dual band.

Visit the Martyn Lynch and sons on-line shop here.

The Wouxun User group is here.

The photographs on the left are the KG-699E 4 metre and KG-UVD1P 2m/70cm Dual band rigs that I own.

This photograph and others of Wouxun handheld rigs are available on my Flickr account and may be freely used for none commercial purposes, acknowledgement preferred.

Note to manufacturers and dealers: Thank you for your interest CQHQ does not accept advertisements but if you would like your equipment reviewed here please contact GW7AAV QTHR.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The post office at the end of the universe

QSL cards are innocuous enough items, one would think, but get a group of radio amateurs together and there are issues that could quickly turn the air blue. Turning aside the issues of QSL cards sent by the bureau that seem to live outside of time and tend to arrive ten years after the intended recipient has gone to that big field day in the sky, the cost of postage and that guy that has not sent you a card from that last QRP moonbounce contact with Outer Mongolia there are the issues I wish to address.

Occasionally I get a contact with someone who asks specifically for a card and when you get their information up on QRZ there is a demand for money with menaces. No Dollars, No QSL!!! or No IRC, No QSL!!! Well if that is what you want then shove it where the sun doesn't shine because I couldn't give a damn. QSL cards are nice to send and nice to receive but I have never been that desperate that I would pay to have someones cards. It is one reason I don't collect awards or certificates.

Mainly, I don't collect awards because if I know I have worked 100 countries, squares or windmills then that is good enough for me, I don't need pieces of paper or gold stickers to tell me how good I am. It is probably due to my childhood overblown sense of self importance and deluded knowledge that I was so much better than my peers that as a result I have never sort approval from anyone. It is probably a good job I enjoyed the examination process otherwise I would never have had any qualifications, because my attitude was one that shunned any form of cataloguing, grading or judgement based on academic achievement. Unfortunately I had to grow up and went through that depressing realisation that I am probably as unimportant as the next guy and that in the grand scheme of things none of us matter. Stars explode and worlds die but time and space go on.

Every now and then I get a QSL sent direct and sometimes these contain a Dollar or two. Now personally I don't want your dollars or IRCs but I appreciate that other people want their awards and their QSL cards so I do not take issue with those who send such things. As someone in a fairly prosperous country with a well paid job I can afford to pay my own return postage but I am aware that even amongst my friends down at the radio club there are those who cannot really afford to waste money on posting cards out every week, so not an issue.

What I have an issue with is IRCs. About a week ago I received a card direct from a station in the US and it contained two IRCs. I wrote out a card and walked over to my local post office. I expected then to either exchange the IRCs for enough stamps or frank my air mail letter containing a QSL card. "What is this?" said one teller. The other shrugged her shoulders "Dunno, never seen those" she said. I explained what they were for and pointed out the wording on the reverse. "The Royal Mail website says I can buy them at my local post office" I said. "They cost one pound forty pence and can be exchanged for 67 pence worth of stamps" I explained. The teller then scanned the bar code on my IRCs and said "They're not on our system". As I turned shaking my head at their lack of interest one called "Try a main post office, such as Mold or Chester". I swore silently to myself as I walked home. I jumped in the car and drove around trying the other local post offices and got similar reactions. Suddenly, as I wondered if I should head for Mold or Chester, I realised that in my anger I had driven so far as to negate the value of the IRCs in what I had spent on petrol and I turned for home.

I still have not posted the QSL card and I have no idea if I will ever get to cash the IRCs before they expire. That is right they have an expiry date on them, something that was made illegal in the UK for gift coupons, but Royal Mail always was a law to themselves. Something about the Royal bit makes them exempt to what everyone else has to do, like the way they do not seem to have to pay out on the insurance when they break or loose your valuables parcels.

I suppose it is just another example of why post offices in the UK are closing. If they cannot even recognise the services they are meant to be supplying how can they sell them and make a profit. What we have in Royal Mail is an aging dinosaur run by under achievers and particularly those in rural communities are paying the price for their incompetence. Before someone (probably my wife or Graham GW0HUS) says it; As an under achiever and aging dinosaur myself I feel I am infinitely well qualified to comment. Stars explode and worlds die but time as space finally come to an end that QSL card you need has still not arrived from the bureau.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Peel and Stamp Solar Cells

Nature News reports that a team of scientists at the University of Illinios has developed an alternative method of making light sensitive semicounductors that could eventually lead to solar cells forty percent more efficent than the best available today. It could also be of use in making better night-vision cameras and other light sensitive devices.

Most semiconductors presently use silicon, but gallium arsenide can be twice as effective as silicon in converting solar radiation to electricity. Unfortunately gallium arsenide is expensive to produce and techniques for using it are wasteful. The new method is described as stick and lift and looks like potentially exiting prospect as only a tiny fraction of the amount of gallium arsenide presently used is needed.

Read more details here.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

iPhone Echolink Demo

CQHQ did an item on the Echolink App for the iPhone way back in February, but in the latest issue of the video magazine Amateur Logic TV you can watch a demonstration of it.

Visit http://www.amateurlogic.com/blog/ or watch Episode 28 on YouTube

Morse Code Ringtone Generator

LinkMorseRing is a Morse Code ringtone generator for Android Smart Phones. It generates a ringtone from a persons name if they are in your address book or from their number if they are not. Far more useful than the iPhone App I mentioned in my last post you can know who is calling without needing to see the caller ID. It is developed by Kevin KC9ICC and you can get more information from his site here http://android.kgmoney.net/morsering/

iPhone Morse App

Graham GW0HUS sent me this link to a free Morse Code application for the iPhone and iPod...


Simple scroll through the letters and numbers and then press send to hear the code.

It sounds a rather convoluted way of sending rather dodgy code, but it may keep someone amused who is learning the code and it is free. Did I mention it is free?

Download it here.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Wouxun User Group

A user group for owners of the Wouxun KG-UVD1P dual band 2m/70cm handheld has been formed at Yahoo Groups.


If you own one or just want to know if you should buy one then join up. One tip when signing up to any Yahoo group; Click view messages on-line or you may found you are drowning under the weight of hundreds of email messages in your in box.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Icom IC-9100 with D-Star

Icom have announced the final specs of the long awaited IC-9100 and it comes as no surprise that there is a D-Star option. D-Star capability is fo 10m through to 23cms. No sign of a release date (or dates) that I can find yet and so the price remains a mystery too. Needless to say it will not be cheap. Still the longer we wait the more time there is for us to save. Maybe it will be here for Christmas? Dear Santa, I have been a good boy...

Actually the best thing about the new rig is that D-Star is optional, so those of it who will never use it can opt out of paying for something they don't need.

Get the details here.

Photos of new Kenwoods

Dave Clausen W2VV has some nice photographs of two new Kenwood rigs taken at Dayton Hamvention on his Flickr page.

HF/50MHz All-Mode Transceiver - TS-590S (tentative naming)

Featuring a 32-bit floating-point DSP, the TS-590S will offer advanced receiver performance and an extensive range of features that make it ideal for beginner and seasoned DX’er alike. The radio’s exceptional ease of operation, true to the Kenwood tradition, will be especially welcome for contest and mobile applications.

144/430MHz Dual Band FM Portable - TH-D72 (tentative naming)

The APRS® capability found on Kenwood’s TH-D7* and TM-D710 has been upgraded for the TH-D72. Thanks also to the internal GPS unit, APRS operations will be more enjoyable than ever. The TH-D72 also offers EchoLink® memory compatibility and a mini-USB connector for enhanced computer connectivity. This transceiver is sure to make ham radio operations easier and more fun for all.

* For overseas model/Discontinued model

Although these rigs look great they do not seem to be destined to set the market alight. Sorry Kenwood, I love your gear but no-one is going to be killed in the rush to buy them.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Dayton - I can dream can't I

Dayton Hamvention (Friday May 14 to Sunday May 16) is in full swing by now and don’t I know it. Every other ham blog I read has photographs of stalls piled high with goodies that has my imagination running riot. Maybe one of these days I will get the chance to see it for myself. It is one of three events I hate to hear about because I so want to be there but cannot. The other two are Ham Radio at Friedrichshafen 25-27 June 2010 and the Isle of Man TT races 29th May – 11th June. I have never been to either of the two amateur radio events mentioned above but I went over to watch the TT races every year for ten years and it is always guaranteed to up-set me when Helen says to me “The TT starts today!”, one small conciliation is that the races are show on Sky Sports Channel these days, but you just cannot replace the camaraderie and atmosphere of thousands of like-minded people enjoying themselves. I will just have to make do with the numerous live web cams at this years Dayton Hamvention as a taster of that atmosphere, with the slight advantage of not having to inhale stale sweat or westle my way through the crowd.

UK 5mHz - Five more years It's Official

You heard it first here well now it is official, UK gets 5mHz for five more years.

From the OFCOM website...

Operating in the 5MHz experimental bands from 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2015 (13/05/10)
Existing Notices of Variation (NoVs) of Amateur Radio Full Licences for the purpose of facilitating use of frequencies in the 5 MHz (experimental) band will expire on 30 June 2010.
Following consent from the Ministry of Defence (MOD), Ofcom is able to permit operation of stations by amateur radio (Full) Licensees using specified frequencies in the 5 MHz experimental band until 30 June 2015. Any amateur radio Full Licensee wishing to operate in the 5 MHz experimental band after 30 June 2010 must obtain a NoV by completing an updated
application form.

A sample copy of the NoV for Operating in the 5MHz experimental bands from 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2015 can be accessed here.

NoVs are issued on the condition that operation in the 5 MHz band (which is suited to Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) operation) is for experimental purposes. Those Amateur Radio Full Licensees who are issued a NoV are encouraged to submit reports of their findings to the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB). Licensees are invited to comply with Operating Procedures version 4.3, updated 1st December 2007 or subsequent revisions available at the RSGB website, on a voluntary basis.

Crazy days and sleepless nights

The last few weeks have given me little time to do anything on the radio due to pressure of work. Last week I did 84 hours, I then had Saturday and Sunday off and this week I have done 60 hours, next week I have another 72 hour marathon session. I am already feeling the effects of over doing it and feeling run down. Sunday I was out from 8am until 4pm with Flintshire Raynet on a charity bike ride from Rhyl in aid of the British Heart Foundation, which was largely uneventful with the standby medics only dealing with one minor accident and a search for a child who set off without his father. My car was described as a porcupine as once I stopped I added a second antenna for 2m/70cms and an 80m whip to go with the Atas and my normal 2m/70cms whip, then just for luck I added a 4x collinear for my 3G broadband dongle. The Disco already has a broadcast antenna and a combined satnav/mobile phone sharks fin. I did nothing different to what I have done a hundred times before but this time when I came to go home the battery on the Disco was flat. Fortunately Mike M1DAP had some jump leads and Barry 2E0PXW had a vehicle with a similar sized battery to jump start me. The battery went straight on charge when I got home and so far has not caused and further problems.

Saturday was therefore my only chill out day and I spent all my time in the shack. I divided my time between chasing SOTA and Mills on the Air. I managed to work 22 mill stations and as I had a list of only thirty I thought that was not half bad, when I cross-checked my log I found that only about half were on the list I had downloaded from the Denby Dale Radio Club. One station I spoke to actually mentioned that they had been doing Mills on the Air since its inception but despite sending their information every year they have never appeared on the official list, I wonder what is going on there? Anyway, I had a great time even though conditions on HF ranged from poor to diabolical.

This morning (Friday 14th May 2010) I crawled in from work feeling like someone had used me as a football for 12 hours, but after a coffee I perked up enough to run my son in to work and drop my Granddaughter at school. Young Faith made me smile by telling me she needed "Toilet Trees" for school. If I had been compos mentis I would have realised what she meant but it passed me by for what seemed like an age. I then realised why Helen had given me a bag full of shower gel and the like, it was for a stall at the school spring fair.

On arriving home I heard Paul G4MD on 5.3985. He was portable on G/LD-039 Baystones. At first he was around 5/7 but after another station beat me to the microphone he disappeared in QSB never to be heard again. He was out with Gerald G4OIG who was operating on 2m SSB and I had no such trouble working him. I nearly did not work him though as I called a couple of times then decided to give it a miss and crawl up to bed. As I went to stand up Gerald called me back and another SOTA point was added to my tally. I was tempted to set my alarm for their second summit but I resisted the temptation. I actually woke up at their alerted time, thought about getting up for a second and then turned over and went back to sleep.

Hopefully I will have a quiet night in work and I can get some SOTA chasing in tomorrow afternoon. Everyone keeps telling me I have missed some great sporadic E openings on 10 metres while I have been working recently so I am keeping everything crossed there will be some more of the same in the next couple of days so I can have a bit. It has all been a none stop series of crazy days and sleepless nights, how I am looking forward to a break at the months end and a chance to stand atop some summit or other, feel the wind in my face. CQ SOTA!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

GB3LL - Peace for now

An uneasy peace in the North Wales repeater war descended over Llandudno this weekend (8th May 2010) as GB3LL was returned to service. Not that there was any sign of a cessation of hostilities just a ceasefire. The peace was only in the metaphoric sense as well, as the real peace was disturbed by peculiar howling noise from the repeater when people tried to access it. There was no sooner a warning on the North Wales Radio Society website, not to use the repeater, than the fault rectified itself only to reappear later and from time to time since. Bearing in mind the problems UKFM repeater Group Western have had in getting to this stage there is deep scepticism as to when this latest fault will be dealt with. The problem is those responsible for the upkeep are physically too far removed from the repeater so surely turning the thing over to NWRS to run is a sensible thing as they will have someone on the spot to deal with a fault who does not have to drive a round trip on well just under 200 miles even to throw the off switch.

Other issues are a reported loss of signal strength and sensitivity. Gordon MW0GBR reports that he is only six miles from the repeater with line of sight and he could previously hear GB3LL easily on a handheld throughout his property but now needs to find a ‘hotspot’. Rob GW6STK is further South and reports the repeater strength is down even more at his location. Softly spoken stations sound okay through the repeater but those that are a bit louder are causing distortion that makes listening uncomfortable. Gordon asks for those using the repeater to back off the microphone until the technicians have made their adjustments.

Liz Cabban GW0ETU brought up a point that never occurred to me and that is how important the GB3LL repeater is to the tourist trade. Hundreds of thousands of tourist visit Llandudno every year and some of those are radio amateurs. The ability to talk to locals and find out where things are and what is going on is quite important and often these amateur radio tourists return year after year because they make friends of other hams in the area they met on GB3LL. Many of them keeping in touch via HF, Echolink and Skype for the rest of the year. In the words of an EI station who first visited Llandudno for the North Wales Radio Rally in the seventies, but who did not want to be identified, “I keep coming back because they’re a great bunch of lads down here. Hell one year one of them even got a round in.”

Anyway hats off to G8LZO and G8NSS for getting the repeater back, NWRS can call off the dogs for a while, but please guys don’t stay away too long. A more permanent solution to this problem is still required as the expense of the two G8s travelling from Stoke-On-Trent to Llandudno in petrol alone is money that would be better spent in improving GB3LL and other repeaters in North Wales and the North West of England. Even if these two are not claiming expenses it is money better in their pockets than that of the taxman and the oil companies. In today’s world it is just not green. Think about your carbon foot print chaps.

I have to say having operated portable from the Great Orme it is an absolute mess RF wise with all sorts of interference all the way from the long wave broadcast frequencies up to in to the microwaves. So how on Earth they manage to get GB3LL to perform at all is amazing. Let us hope that, on the next trip the engineers make, everything is restored to the way those that use it would like and that it keeps running for a while to let the smoke clear. Otherwise come the North Wales Radio Rally Elwyn and Dai will be waiting for the RSGB’s President and UKFM repeater Group Western’s Chairman with the year old misshapen hen’s eggs that Elwyn was saving for Gordon Brown if he ever came to North Wales and the daughters of Ceridwen will be chanting his name as they stir their cauldrons.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Changes to US sixty Metre allocation

According to ARRL there are changes coming on 5 mhz for US amateurs too. Apparently the FCC is proposing replacing one of the five Amateur Radio channels in the 60m band and increasing the power level from 50 to 100W ERP. http://www.arrl.org/news/fcc-proposes-additions-changes-to-amateur-5-mhz-allocation

Five Megs For Five More Years

It is not official yet but the word from Colin G3PSM on the UK Five Megs Yahoo Group is that Ofcom have received notification from Ministry of Defence on Thursday that they were content to extend the current arrangement for a further 5 years. He goes on to say that the formal Ofcom announcement on their website which should be made in the coming week and everybody should wait for it before contacting them about renewals of Notices of Variation.

For those of us with NoVs for the sixty metre band this is great news but falls short of the hoped for permanent allocation that some countries have recently been awarded. No need to cut down my 5mHz dipole for another band or solder the diode back in to my rig to remove its wide band capability just yet.

The main interest in the sixty metre band is its often magical properties for Near Vertical Incident Skywave which makes it wonderful (most of the time) for inter-UK working. Lots of SOTA activators are QRV on the band because even on a couple of watts in to a low dipole they can make contacts up and down the country during daylight, something not possible very often on the higher bands and usually only during hours of darkness on the lower bands. During the hour of darkness however sixty can be great for long skip contacts such as the states.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Art DecoTech Is Pure Eye Candy

I only found his blog yesterday but I am rapidly becoming a fan of Jeff Davis KE9V's Signal and Noise. He has just posted a link to Jeffrey Stephenson who crafts computer hardware into fine works of art. His entire gallery of work is beautiful and they’re all working computers. I love this stuff with its art deco style. Now if we could transfer that to some of our black boxes then maybe the ladies in our lives would not be so reluctant to let use spend money on radios. Check out the Shure55 Unidyne microphone that's a PC? Wow!

Wouxun go mainstream

Those of you have been reading my blog will realise I have for a while been will know that I think that the big three Japanese radio manufacturers should be watching their backs because the Chinese are coming. I have bought four Wouxun dual band 2m/70cm KG-UVD1Ps for my family, I have the Wouxun KG-699E HF 66-88 mhz for use on 70cms and I have started a bit of a craze for them with members of both my radio club and Raynet group. I am impressed by the quality in relation to the cost which with a little development could easily match that from the big names. Well those big names need to start panicing because Wouxun has a stand at Dayton Hamvention. Wouxon-US says that it will be at booth is #172, just inside the North Hall entrance and to the right and will have 100 units plus accessories packed up and ready to go at a special Hamvention price. It will be interesting to see if that price is less than the $80 plus postage being charged on eBay by sellers in Hong Kong.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Radio Curmudgeons

There’s always been the contention that when it comes to new ideas and advancing technology, many radio hams act like old farts and curmudgeons. So it’s interesting that no one has ever really taken the time to define the hobby radio curmudgeon. Until now...

Read KE9V's hilarious but true blog post here

Solar Cycle 24 Website

I said in a recent post that I should not be afraid to post old news, so here is something that has been around since March 15, 2006, but if I haven't seen it then maybe lots of my readers have not seen it either. Graham GW0HUS pointed me to Solar Cycle 24, which although it has little that is not available elsewhere manages to put all of your solar and aurora needs in one place. The site was created by Kevin Gilles GibeauVE3EN who describes himself as a CW nut.

CS2HD - Harley Davidson's in Portugal

How could an ex-biker who dreams of riding a big hog along mile after mile of car free roads with the sun on his back not give a plug to the amateur radio special event station CS2HD. This special events station has been set up and will be active during the International Harley Davidson meeting in Tavira on May 15th and 16th. All contacts will recieve a QSL card with a Harley on of course.

This event will take place in the gardens in front of the old market between "Rua Doutor Jose Pires Padinha" and "Rua dos Cais" in the center of Tavira.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

ZS8M callsign pirated

From DX World - ZS8M on 20m CW (May 5) is another PIRATE. The real ZS8M begins operations in a few weeks from now.

Why the hell these guys do it is beyond me. What is in it for them? A smug satisfaction that they have disappointed a whole pile of stations who will not be receiving a QSL card?

If anyone from DX World is reading this then can you please get rid of that stupid flash that comes up when I am reading your website. I know that Internet Explorer 6 is considered out of date and I use Firefox myself. The reason most people are still using IE6 is that their operating system is unable to run newer versions and why should they change? In my case this is a corporate PC and I am not allowed to do anything to it. The damned thing fills half the monitor and I am getting fed up with it.

GB3heLL – Repeater Wars

A perusal of the North Wales Amateur Radio Society web pages reveals the sorry tale of the Llandudno 70cm repeater GB3LL or maybe as it should be called GB3heLL. The latest news of what has happened with the repeater is entitled the “Not so exciting News Re GB3LL 70cm Repeater !!! and has all the potential of turning into all out war between seriously pissed local radio amateurs and the RSGB President Dave Wilson, who just happens to be the Chairman of UKFM Repeater Group Western as well.

Apparently a personal promise to relinquish the license to NWRS if the repeater was not back on the air by last weekend was made in front of a large group on NWRS members at the Blackpool radio rally. El Presidente has since sent an email denying he said any such thing and that of UKFM Repeater Group Western have no intention of allowing the Welsh group to run their own repeater. Those at that meeting are incensed at what they consider an out and out lie.

Without taking sides, it was never going to be that simple to transfer the NoV (notice of variation) to NWRS, although this sort of thing has been done regularly in the past particularly when UKFMRGW was empire building. It also goes without saying that making promises like this without consulting the repeater group’s committee was always going to be somewhat rash.

My opinions on the RSGB, UKFMRGW and Dave Wilson are well known to those that know me but the NWRS’s members are pulling no punches and what they are saying in public I would not even say in private. This I think is some indication of just how angry the NWRS and other local radio amateurs are over this whole fiasco.

I hope this whole issue can be resolved soon but the damage is done and there will be no peace until the Welsh are running their own repeater. Maybe someone should warn the President that this is the stomping ground of the Son’s of Glendower and if he ever comes to Llandudno he should avoid going near bookshops or grassy knolls.

North Wales Radio Society meets every Thursday, 7:00pm to 9:30pm, Tan Y Lan community center, Tan Y Lan Road, LL29 9BB.

Test post

This is just a test post to see if the Twitter & Facebook picks up my blog posts. If you are on Twitter you can get warnings of the latest from CQHQ by following GW7AAV.

Ham Fashioned Yagi

For those who don’t do netspeak ROFL means rolls on the floor laughing. Well now I just picked myself up off the floor I must point you all over to Make and the wonderful Diana Eng KC2UHB and her collapsible fabric Yagi antenna she uses for working satellites.

Diana Eng is an American fashion designer and was a contestant on the second season of the reality television program Project Runway. She describes herself as a “Fashion Nerd”.

Okay guys we now have to move the sewing machine in to the shack.

How to silence commercial radio

There are times when I feel guilty at laughing and the news that Lanarkshire's L107 radio station has its £50,000 transmitter stolen while it was on the air is one of them.

According to the Daily Record newspaper two thieves were spotted by CCTV cameras wheeling it away from the 17th floor of an office block in Hamilton, just after the station fell silent at noon on the 30th April 2010. Mike Smith's Log In To Lunch show was being broadcast was being broadcast at the time. The transmitter about is the size of a large fridge.

The station was taken over earlier this year after claims that former major shareholder Alan Shields had failed to pay creditors and DJs, which makes one wonder if this was not a theft at all but maybe the employees of the communications company that supplied the transmitter collecting their gear that they had not been paid for. If it was thieves I hope they got severe RF burns disconnecting the antenna.

The article in the Record says the station broadcasts to a potential audience of 600,000 but the fact that the station has been in financial difficulties may indicate the audience might be somewhat smaller. In which case it was a good job their listener was tuned in or they might not have realised for weeks. There are certainly lots of this type of commercial FM station that if they vanished tomorrow no-one would notice.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Sleep is for the weak

I have for well over thirty years worked shifts mostly 12 hours. When I was a child I was always more awake in the early hours of the morning than during the day, but I could when I needed sleep on a clothes line. As I get older it get harder and harder for me to sleep during the day when I am working nights. It leads to me getting more and more crotchety and stressed out. I end every batch of shifts feeling seriously jet lagged. Talk to me after a bad set of nights and you will realise that my mouth and brain appear disconnected, often I cannot remember the names of even my best friends with whom I converse with every day. I get so bad sometimes I worry that one day it will be permanent.

There have been advantages to being used to working nights over the years, such as staying up all night working sporadic e on 2 metres SSB, or DXing on HF. I have also been called on to run the night shift on special events stations and during RAYNET call-outs, both of which I have enjoyed.

I was on the night shift last night and it was the first of four shifts. I got in this morning around 7am and while I had a last coffee I got involved with answering my emails. Before I knew it, it was 9am and I literally dragged myself upstairs and fell into bed. Around 1pm I was roused by a call of nature and found I had the feeling my tongue was welded firmly to the roof of my mouth. I needed a drink and went downstairs for a drink. While the kettle was boiling I went in to the shack and turned on the radio. The Icom 706 was on 7.116 mHz and I tuned down to hear Hans DL/PA3FYG/P on DM/RP-412 Höhe Haardter Hochwald a summit that had never been activated for SOTA before. Lucky strike one! I went to make my coffee.

Coffee was supplemented with some beef sandwiches and as I sat down to eat them the Kenwood TS-140s I use for 5 mHz sprang in to life with a call from Martyn MW1MAJ/P on GW/NW-017 Y Llethr. Lucky strike two. Before I could finish my lunch I had a call from my wife on the local 70cms repeater. She had been to a meeting and was returning to work. It took me totally by surprise that she called me as she knew I should still be snoring away in bed. It seems Helen knows me better than I know myself. By the time I had finished talking to Helen it was nearly 3pm and I went back to bed again.

It was 5pm when I woke and got ready to head out to work and I was just extracting a fresh tee-shirt from the washing pile when I heard Martyn MW1MAJ/P calling on 5.3985 mHz. This time he was on GW/NW-041 Moelfre and I was able to spot him on SOTAwatch. Lucky strike three.
So I lost a bit of sleep but got three nice SOTA contacts in the log - Result.

Before I left for work my eldest son arrived and told me his offer on a house had been accepted. Lucky strike four. I arrived at work tonight with a bit of a spring in my step and it must have been noticed as one of my workmates commented that I must have had a good sleep. Now what will we do with all that space when James moves out?

Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs: 300 Mbs/sec over copper

Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs achieves industry first: 300 Megabits per second over just two traditional DSL lines

The initial thought is one of great, maybe my crap Internet connection can be dramatically improved, but this sounds like it will just give providers another excuse to delay installing fibre optics. There may be problems ahead though because DSL services use HF radio spectrum to send data over telephone lines and the worry from the ham community is of increased interference.

Read what the UKQRM forum are saying about the subject here.

Wouxun - No news is old news

Note to self: Do not be afraid to blog about something that is old news, some people live under rocks.

I refer to a blog post from G4VXE were he mentions the 70MHz Wouxun KG-699E which can be bought from China via eBay. I have had one for over a year and it is very good. Tim had never heard of them until he spoke to Walt G3NYY on 70cms the other day. I pointed out to Tim these rigs are very popular with the SOTA crowd intersted in working 4m and also that Wouxun also make an excellent value at under £70 dual band 2m/70cm rig the Wouxun KG-UVD1P.

Just kidding about the rock Tim.

Ps: Check out Tim’s video about the DVAP dongle for D-Star

Cross? I am now

I spent a few hours this week working on my two metre beam. I got the ten element Jaybeam from a club member some time ago and it has done sterling service with some amazing contacts in to most of Europe and the length and breadth of the UK. All the more impressive when you consider that for all that time it was mounted at only twelve feet. I had purchased some stainless steel bolts and wing nuts to replace the old rusting mild steel one and some time ago I had bought some replacement mounts for the elements. It was job waiting to be done but kept getting put off because I wanted to use the antenna to chase some SOTA activation or other.

The thing that got me motivated was finding someone selling an eight element Jaybeam. You see the ten element was meant to be a cross Yagi, but its original owner had never used the second set of elements and had mislayed them when he moved house. I bought the eight element antenna for a bargain price expecting to use at least the driven element to restore the cross. I was surprised to find that although the boom size was smaller the spacing and lengths of all the elements matched. So I only had to make 2 elements, which was less than I had to replace when I got the 10 X. The antenna is still only at 12 feet, but is back to its full glory and in some ways better than ever. The next job is to replace the coax with some of the 200m of Westflex I bought last year, then I will mount it on the rotator at thirty feet or so. It should improve my signals on 2m FM a tad and I might just get a few more of those hand held rubber duck only SOTA activations. I think I may swap the old Trio 9130 I use on 2m FM for one of my Yaesu FT-857s to give me a little more power too.

What a pity Jaybeam do not make amateur radio antennas any more. A tragic tale if ever there was one.

National Mills Weekend

National Mills Weekend is this weekend – 8th & 9th of May 2010. It has always long been a favourite of mine, along with Lighthouses on the air. Started nine years ago by the Denby Dale Radio Club in conjunction with The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

If you Work (or SWL’s hear) 10 stations or more over the weekend, send a copy of your Log (QSL cards not required) with a donation of at least £5.00 payable to DDARS to Gerald G3SDY QTHR. Proceeds will to the the S.P.A.B. Mills renovation fund.

Here is a list of stations registered for the 2010 event.

GB0BHW Bidston Hill Windmill
GB0HPM Holton Post Mill
GB0HSM High Salvington windmill
GB0JAJ Jill Post Windmill
GB0OHM Herne Mill,
GB0OHW Holgate Windmill
GB0SBM Saltford Brass Mill
GB0WMH Raylegh Windmill
GB1WM Weybourne Mill
GB2ARW Aythorpe Roding Windmill H
GB2BHM Benholm Mill
GB2EM Elstead Mill
GB2GG Greens Windmill
GB2GGM Gelligroes Mill
GB2RWM Rayleigh windmill
GB2TMI Thwaites Water Mill
GB2UW Upminster Windmill
GB2WMS Shepshed Watermill
GB2WWM Wymondham Windmill
GB4HM Howsham Mill
GB4MPW Mount Pleasant Windmill
GB4MW Mountnessing windmill
GB6CW Cromer Windmill
GB6MW Meopham Windmill

I have a RAYNET event on the 9th so I will have to try to work as many as I can on the 8th, but at least I am not working like I was for the International SOTA weekend.

Bidston Windmill photograph by Diana Galletly http://www.fractal-angel.org/

Monday, 3 May 2010

Another Ham Arrested

A radio amateur, Irene Marie Levy KJ6CEY, , has been arrested after allegedly making threats on Police and Fire service frequencies. Hemet Police investigators seized 11 radios, seven radio frequency scanners, radio frequency lists, computer equipment, and other miscellaneous radio equipment from Levy’s home. She is being held on suspicion of making terrorist threats; false report of a bomb threat; and maliciously interrupting, disrupting, impeding, or interfering with the transmission of a public safety radio frequency.

Read the full Southwest Riverside News Network

After the recent incident with Joseph S McVeyK8JSM, who was arrested while trying to see US President Barack Obama, this is just the sort of publicity amateur radio does not need. We all know their are some nutters in ham radio circles, but the press will now be out to tar us all with the same brush. Next thing you know anyone with a hand held radio or an communications aerial on their car is a threat. These things usually happen in threes so I wonder who will be next.

I feel sure that Joseph McVey is just a naive over enthusiastic kid who was no threat to anyone but was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He perhaps needs to grow up, stop playing cops and robbers and find a good woman. I am equally sure that Irene Marie Levy is suffering from a mental breakdown and in need of some care and medication. Her actions seem typical of someone with a bi-polar condition, which can be treated with drugs such as lithium. At the very least this is a cry for help, but so often in society we want to lock up instead of help people.

Latest- The Secret Service does not believe there was a threat to President Obama and according to his Twitter page Joseph McVey has been released and is home.

Resistance is not futile

Resistor Finder is a Freeware program for Windows 95/98/NT from Bertrand Zauhar, VE2ZAZ. It allows the electronics designer or hobbyist to find a combination of 2 resistors that, when connected in parallel, will provide the best match to a desired resistance.

I installed it on my old Win98 machine but was disapointed to find that it did not tell me where to find the resistors just which resistors I needed. Turned out I needed one from 3 draws across and two down and another from five across and four down. Room for improvement then.

I haven’t tested it under Windows 7.

Bertrand’s website is in English and French and you can find more interesting projects and programs there.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Success for International SOTA Weekend

International SOTA Weekend is looking like a massive success. I am stuck in work and so can only watch the spots coming in. By 10am this morning there were already fifty spots on SOTAwatch and as I write this there are over 200. For the chasers who can work all bands and all modes all weekend there will be some massive points logged. It is therefore a good job that the SOTA database is back up and working after the problems caused by the host switching to a new server. There are still a few niggling issues caused by changes of address to be worked out and the management team have been working hard both to sort the problems and deflect the brickbats. If only some people could get it in their heads that these are volunteers doing the work. I am of course a bit miffed at being out of the game during a period of such high activity, but anything that grows SOTA has to be good in my books. Someone called Summit on the Air the poor mans IOTA, but I think the accessibility of hills and mountains to the average radio amateur has lifted SOTA to something much bigger and miles more fun.